Travelogue: Western Wilds (Part 1)

It’s that time of year again, when my mother needs a break from the ordinary routines of work and home, and needs to be somewhere else to rest. I get it; I’m the same. Busy as she is, somebody needed to organise her holiday. Having nothing but time, it was my pleasure to oblige – and it has been my pleasure to accompany her into the Tasmanian wilderness!

The nine-hour drive from Sydney to Melbourne consumed Day 1. Brief stops in Goulburn (for breakfast), Tarcutta (for fuel and a bag of Batlow apples) and Wangaratta (for lunch and a stroll) were all we permitted ourselves to take given the unknowns involved in getting the car onto the Spirit of Tasmania. This is something we’ve both wanted to do for ages. (If you can, take advantage of the current government offer of free passage for your car!)

But take snacks. Lots of snacks. And a podcast. And a playlist. Because there will be waiting involved. We joined the queue at Melbourne ports at 6:25pm and actually drove onto the ship at about 8:50pm. Inexperienced voyagers of the Bass Strait, we did not have enough snacks – but we won’t make the same mistake again.

Overnight, the ship was lashed by wind and jostled with six-metre waves. This made for an interesting night’s sleep, but come morning we sallied forth into the sunshine of a Sunday in Devonport. Fortified by an excellent breakfast from Laneway (featuring very generous dollops of Tasmanian butter), we headed west along the north coast to the turnoff for the Tarkine Drive.

Callidendrous is a new favourite word, derived from the Greek for ‘beautiful’ and ‘tree’. The Tarkine is full of callidendrous rainforest.

The takayna (or anglicised to Tarkine) is an area of protected wilderness in the northwestern corner of the island. Deep in this green mess we found the kinds of wonders you only see in cool temperate rainforests: skins of velvet moss on fifty-metre myrtle beech trees, ancient Huon pines and mushroom species in the dozens.

Cenote (underwater cave filled with water) at the Trowutta Arch.

To reach our first overnight stop, we negotiated the Western Explorer: seventy kilometres of unsealed road through an imposing landscape of mountains and grassy scrub. Like the weather, the scenery can change in an instant here: emerald pastures (and sunshine) one minute, mountains covered in gigantic grey trees (with horizontal rain) the next. I don’t think my mum’s ever felt so intrepid! After crossing at Corinna on the river punt we passed through Zeehan, a mining town in decline just crying out for second life as a film set.

While the effects of being on a boat in rough seas might’ve subsided, by this point I’d driven so many miles of windy roads I was seeing pot-holes or white double lines wherever I looked.

On the punt across the river at Corinna.

Neither of us expected to be quite so charmed by Strahan, a handsome town with stunning natural surrounds and beautifully-preserved nineteenth-century architecture. We took a stroll and, in one of those serendipitous moments one comes to treasure most about past travels, met a local couple who gave us a private tour of the town wood-turner’s workshop (knee-high piles of Huon pine shavings!) and served us local beer and spirits to taste. Happily weary, we smashed some local salmon for dinner and called it a night.

A section of the Western Explorer.

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